Now here we are at Part two of my little opus. I highly recommending reading part one that can be found here, since it’s were I explain a lot of terms and base mechanics of digital projection. This post will be a dissection of my work week and how digital projection effects my work and what it takes to get ready for these hundred million dollar weekends from a projection point of view. I’m going to use the latest Pirates of the Caribbean weekend as a template for frame this blog.
For bigger releases we usually receive the hard drives on Tuesday since the content has to be allocated to more theatre’s. For Pirates we received a 3D only hard drive on Tuesday which was injested into the TMS. On Wednesday I came in and received the trailer packs from our marketing department and the film schedule for the weekend. As you can see my building is in a classic H shape. The digital houses have been spread across the building to accommodate how well the individual films are performing. Naturally we can’t move these projectors around. They way a lot and to properly line up the projector with the screen takes several hours. And that’s if you know what your doing.
With the trailer packs and schedule in hand I start building the playlists on the TMS and then injesting the needed content from the TMS to the individual projectors over night.
Thursday is crunch time. Absolutely everything has to be ready by Thursday night before Friday morning, no exceptions. This is when the 35mm prints arrive in the morning. It takes about an hour and a half to build a full print with trailers. A good projectionist could even get this down to an hour. Once the print is built it’s good to go. Sometimes we try to preview the print to check for bad splices or to see if the print is in good condition. Moving a print into the needed house is also pretty easy. the prints are a little heavy but even the biggest prints I can move on my own.
At the same time we check to see if the films uploaded to the digitals properly. On more than one instance we have gotten corrupted hard drives or trailers that simply don’t work. On one occassion it was caught early and we actually recieved an email telling us that the 2D version of the Final Destination trailer would not properly injest. Why? Who knows. It’s worse though when full movies go bad. My theatre got Insidious and we injested it like normal. On Thursday we came in and realized that the hard drive is corrupt and we had to scramble and get a new hard drive sent to us ASAP. We missed several shows on Friday afternoon because we had to wait for the hard drive to show up and then injest it. Shows lost is money lost.
So how is this different from a 35mm print. Even if the print is scratched, which never happens on a new print, we can still run the film. With a hard drive there is no information to play so there is no show to play. We are completely stuck until the new hard drive can arrive. If a print is bad we can run it while we wait for a replacement.
This is also when the KDM’s arrive. Well suppose to arrive at least. There are a lot of issues with KDM’s and it’s mostly on the distributor side. At first the most common way to get these keys by email. We would download a zipped attachment. Unzip it and then put it on a thumb drive and download it onto the specific projector the film is on. The keys are very specific to each film and what type of server they are on. I have three types of servers: Sony, Doremi, and Dolby and each needs it’s own keys and can’t be swapped out for the others.
The problem arises when the distributors either don’t send the keys or don’t send me the right keys. So what does this mean for me the lonely projectionist, it means that I have to spend time on the phone calling these distributors trying to get them to send me the correct KDM’s. On average when this happens I’m on the phone for anywhere between fifteen minutes to half an hour. Now here is the fun part. Sometimes the keys show up in our inbox fifteen minutes later, an hour later, or even never and I have to get back on the phone. Make no mistake these are not isolated incidents. Nearly every single week I have problems with KDM’s and it’s not just my theatre either.
So this is when the Pirates example comes in. I didn’t work the Friday of the Pirates weekend but if everything goes smoothly on Thursday then there shouldn’t be any other prep work for Friday. This is what happened though. We had received two 35mm prints of Pirates making it a total of five houses running Pirates. Three in digital 3D houses and the two 35mm prints running in the biggest 35mm houses we have left. The numbers were very clear. We were selling out our 2D houses leaving our 3D houses nearly empty. As you can see all of our biggest houses are taking up by 3D so we couldn’t just put a 35mm print in our biggest house.
By that night our District Manager sent out an email very late that night stating that we need to maximize our 2D showings to make up for demand. What would usually happen is that we would interlock the prints. Interlocking means that we would run one print through two projectors at the same time for the same show. So If I interlocked Pirates in 16 and 9 I could increase the available seats from 300 to 550. Also the 35mm projectors have to be physically close to each other to make this work. 16 and 9 are opposite of each other which would make this possible if a digital house hadn’t been installed in 16.
Now look at my options. I don’t have a 2D digital print to show in any of the digital shows nor can I somehow convert a 3D print into 2D. I only have one place left that is actually set up to be interlocked at 13 and 14 (the proper equipment to interlock had been set up at 5,6, and 7 and there are other limitations in place there). So what am I left with? Practically nothing. My hands are tied. Disney had been dead set on having Pirates be in 3D as the only way to see this film. Very few 35mm prints were sent out and the only way you got a 2D digital print of the film is if you were completely converted to digital houses.
Now lets compare this to 35mm and say that all of my houses were still 35mm and we didn’t have to worry about digital. First off I could interlock the bigger houses and move the left over print to a smaller house allowing for more seats to be sold. No big deal and easy to handle.
Let’s put the digital houses back into the picture but say that Disney sent us a 2D digital version of Pirates. However we were still booked to have all the digital houses to play 3D content. I could upload the 2D versions to the same digital houses just in case. The only problem with that is that there is limited space on the projectors hard drives. I can run out of room pretty quickly especially if I am keeping backups of other films on the projectors in case something goes wrong and I have to move around prints. Again the advantage goes to 35mm. I can pick up a print and put it where ever I want in between shows no problem. With digitals I only have so much space on each hard drive so the ability to move prints is much more limited and if I need a move a print to a certain hard drive that isn’t already there I have to wait for it to injest for two hours while no shows can be played in that house.
And that’s just moving prints around, lets get a little more technical. Let’s move up a week with weekend after the release of Kung Fu Panda 2. Theatre 10 is our smallest digital house and on Tuesday it stopped running shows properly. For a full day the shows in that house had to be canceled while we spent the day on the phone with our technicians and with Sony. It ended up that the projectors computer and storage center (called a Media Block) had become corrupt. A new Media Block had to be shipped out from Sony and our tech had to install it himself which took another full day. Meanwhile I had to figure out where else to play Rio 3D (which was in theatre 10 at the time). If the film misses all of it’s showtimes for the day we have to pay a fine to the studio for breaking contract. Both Pirates and Kung Fu Panda were still doing well and I was lucky that Rio was still in another house so that I didn’t have to miss any more shows and sneak that last one in while 10 was still being worked on.
At this point if you are still reading I congratulate you sirs and ma’ams. The entire reason I’m writing this is to inform the Screened community about the trials and tribulations of Digital projection. There seems to be this misconception by everyone that digital projection is a cure for everything projection. Even in my own company anyone that is above my head and my technicians don’t understand that digital projection has just as many problems as 35mm projection and that when something goes wrong it’s even harder to fix. With 35mm projectors I can literally solve problems with some duck tape and super glue but with digital projection I have to get approval from my superiors, who then order the parts, we wait for the parts, and then the techs show up to install it.
The same goes for the 3D lens debate that seems to be a hot topic right now in the movie blog realm. These are extremely complicated machines that are still owned by Sony who are very protective of their equipment. Again if you have any questions please ask.